Bagging Your Fish for the Auction

Please take the time to bag and label your fish properly to ensure their health / safety enroute to their new homes. Here are a few simple guidelines:

  • Avoid feeding your fish for 36-48 hours prior to bagging. This greatly reduces the amount of waste that will accumulate in the bag while also keeping harmful ammonia levels to a minimum.
  • Use proper fish bags and elastics when bagging your fish (ask for these items at your local aquarium supply shop). Ziplocks are not reliable for holding water and air under pressure so should be avoided. Use ziplock bags only for dry goods… they’re also good for a ham sandwich! 😉
  • Allow for a ratio of approximately 75% air / 25% clean tank water in each bag for maximum oxygen levels and to keep your fish comfortable. The water should cover your fish while the bag is on its side… keep in mind oxygen is more important than water. At this point you could optionally add a small amount of conditioner (or de-stressor) to the water.
  • Use fresh air in your bag – avoid ‘blowing’ air directly into it. Simply open the bag as wide as possible and then quickly snap your hand around the top to seal in a good supply of fresh air. (An air pump could assist.) Use elastics to close the bag, and secure well. The bag should be taut like a balloon.
  • Double-bag your fish if they have sharp fins, teeth or bristles (i.e. anything ‘pokey’). Hint: medium-to-larger-sized cichlids, catfish, sucker fishes / plecos are all common suspects!
  • Always bag medium-to-large fish in separate bags. When deciding how many fish to put together in one bag, consider whether or not they all appear to have enough room (i.e. if the bag were accidentally bumped, would any fish collide with each other?) Fish that are naturally aggressive by nature should be bagged separately (i.e. each aggressive fish gets its own bag!)
  • For any unusually large fish, avoid using fish bags and instead choose a suitably-sized plastic container (pail or bin) with lid to be sold along with the fish. The lid should seal properly but be easily removable in order to properly show the fish.
  • Do your fish take great pleasure in jamming themselves into the corners of the bag? While stuck in a corner of the bag, they may not be able to breathe properly and could injure themselves. A quick-fix to this problem: turn the bag upside-down, and then double-bag for safety. Voila — no more corners!
  • Are your fish accustomed to living in a tank with aquatic plants? If so, adding a small plant, stem or a few leaves in your fish bag will provide added comfort and shelter for your fish while they wait.
  • Please label each bag clearly with the following details: vendor-lot number, species name, number of fish in the bag (unless it’s just one), and whether the fish are male / female (if known). If you wish, you can also include additional information such as: species origin, an adult photo of the species if your fish is a juvenile (or use a photo of the juvenile’s parents), the generation if known, etc… Be sure your bag labels are clearly visible and easy-to-read. Hint: the more information you can provide to the auctioneers, the more easily they can sell your fish to a suitable home, and for the best possible price.
  • If more than one fish bag is to be sold as a single lot, mark each bag with the vendor-lot number and also mark each bag as being, e.g. “1 of 3”, “2 of 3”, “3 of 3.” Be sure to use tape, a larger bag, etc. to keep all bags within each lot together as one unit so that the individual bags don’t become separated, or get confused with other lots nearby.
  • When transporting your fish to or from the auction, use a foam container or cooler box (e.g. a camping cooler) to keep the air around the bags steady at room temperature. As an inexpensive alternative (though don’t use this method for extended periods of time as it’s a bit less effective), you can also use triple-bagged paper shopping bags (e.g. paper Co-op or Safeway bags) with extra newspaper inside, then and roll up the top to keep any outside cold air out. Whichever method you choose, it is especially important for your fish to be insulated when traveling on winter days.

What’s New In Cyprinid Studies: Part 3


Cyprinids are great ones for schooling; a survival mechanism that evolved as an anti-predator measure (many eyes watching are better than just two), and as a food-finding mechanism (better a small share in the crowd frequently than the occasional big bite by yourself). It is known that cyprinids can recognize each other as individuals, and prefer to school with familiar friends rather than strangers, just as humans prefer to hang out with the old gang. The bigger a school is, the better it is for predator defense and food hunting. A recent study on the minnow Phoxinus phoxinus showed that given a choice between a shoal of friends or a bigger one of strangers, they prefer their friends [3]. However, this preference decreases as the relative size of the school of strangers increases. When the strangers are about twice the size of the friends group, an individual minnow presented with a choice between the two will go with the strangers.

So from a practical point of view for the aquarist, what does all this business about schooling mean? Basically, it suggests that cyprinids are happier in groups rather than solitary fish in a tank. The bigger the group, the better, and probably the more successful you would be at spawning them. This is not to say that you would not be able to spawn a solitary pair, but if you are having problems, it is wise to consider how the fish behave in natural conditions.


Cyprinids are understandably timid fish, as in habitat they are usually more eaten than eater. The schooling mechanism of social behaviour is a common defensive mechanism against predators, since more fish mean more eyes watching more angles of attack.

A group of chemicals known as alarm pheromones are used to alert nearby fish about risks. There is a problem of false alarms, since there are numerous possible stimuli in habitat which might provoke false alarms. Cyprinids therefore not only have to keep an eye out for predators but to decide if an object is worth getting excited about. There are two types of chemicals needed to react to predators. Firstly, the predator leaves an odour in the water, and secondly some experienced fish has to secrete alarm pheromone when it detects the odour. Cyprinids can quickly learn to associate the two chemicals, such that when they smell the predator in the water they will automatically go on full alert [6].

There is also visual detection of predators. A recent study on this aspect used the fathead minnow Pimephales promelas as a test indicator [1]. The experiment showed that motion was used as a more reliable alarm rather than shape. Lots of fish are fish-shaped, but one moving in a purposeful manner with gaping mouth directly to another fish can only spell trouble. Random motion, with fin-flicking, will not likely trigger alarms.

Historically, most aquarists forget or don’t know about pheromones in the water. Humans are visually oriented, and we have one of the poorest abilities to detect scents in the animal kingdom. What may seem to be clear water in a peaceful aquarium could be a stress-inducing soup of pheromones to the cyprinids in a community tank with potential predators. To take a commonly seen example, consider a community tank with angelfish and danios. The angelfish are predators, poor ones perhaps, but predators nonetheless. Small cyprinids can out-swim their attackers, but are unable to get away from them. They thus live in a soup of alarm pheromones and predator odours that stresses them.

It is known that minnows prefer to forage at night to escape attention of predators, but as hunger increases, they are more active during the day [4]. This suggests that if an aquarist is having trouble finding the cyprinids in the tank, skimping on the food will make them more conspicuous. There is a common practice among many aquarists based on this idea. Fish intended for showing at a club exhibition should be starved for a couple of days prior to the show. Hunger increases activity and foraging behaviour, and will also increase the likelihood of impressing the judges. A well-fed fish entered in a show is more likely to laze about with droopy fins not doing much of anything, leaving the judges to pass it over in favour of its neighbour right up front at the glass wagging its body in the hope of food.


Cyprinid courtship usually involves the male displaying bright colours and/or unusual body characteristics such as over-developed finnage. Colours depend on diet, and females proceed on the assumption that a male with bright colours has a better diet and is healthier than a drabber male. However, there is a limit to extravagant ornamentation for sexual selection. If too extreme, it will affect adjacent body tissues or organs [2]. In the aquarium this may not matter so much, but in habitat, a long-finned goldfish would not be able to out-swim a predator. The egg-shaped breeds of goldfish with cramped guts and a waddling gait would quickly be picked off by predators in habitat. What does matter for aquarists is that extreme ornamentation might affect the fish’s physiology, such as bizarre body shapes that produce distorted internal organs with concomitant internal troubles. Among the domesticated cyprinids, the only such suspect fish are goldfish breeds. This is when you see reference to some breeds as being delicate and difficult to keep. The real point is that they manage to stay alive, not that they are difficult to keep.

Just as with other types of aquarium fish such as cichlids, the cyprinids have dominance hierarchies. It has been previously shown that dominant males should be removed from a tank after they’ve spawned a few times in order to allow other males to contribute something to the gene pool. It does matter, however, what condition the smaller, sub-dominant males are in. In Pimephales promelas, small males will advance their spawning when the dominant males are removed, and will produce as many offspring. Such offspring are smaller though, which in habitat is because the small males didn’t have time to get their young plumped up before end of season [5]. In the aquarium, where seasons don’t exist, this effect means that the young will have to be fed heavier and longer to get them up to par. Normally this would not be an important effect in the fish room, but for those aquarists who raise fish in outdoor ponds it might mean smaller juveniles. To summarize from a practical point of view, if you want to get a fresh burst of spawning from your fish, remove the dominant male and be prepared to feed heavily the next batch of fry.


You do weekly partial water changes on your aquariums, right? The filter is also rinsed out in the change bucket at the same time, right? It is not enough to say the aquarium is in good condition because the water is clear. Many problems are invisible, as not all toxins are pigmented or otherwise indicate themselves. Cyprinids tend to be messy fish, and even minnows will raise water turbidity and turn the tank into a phosphate soup if regular water changes are not done [7].


1] Wisenden, B.D., and K.R. Harter (2001) Motion, not shape, facilitates association of predation risk with novel objects by fathead minnows (Pimephales promelas). ETHOLOGY 107:357-364

2] Emlen, D.J. (2001) Costs and the diversification of exaggerated animal structures. SCIENCE 291:1534-1536

3] Barber, I., and H.A. Wright (2001) How strong are familiarity preferences in shoaling fish? ANIMAL BEHAVIOUR 61:975-979

4] Metcalfe, N.B., and G.I. Steele (2001) Changing nutritional status causes a shift in the balance of nocturnal to diurnal activity in European minnows. FUNCTIONAL ECOLOGY 15:304-309

5] Danylchuk, A.J., and W.M. Tonn (2001) Effects of social structure on reproductive activity in male fathead minnows (Pimephales promelas). BEHAVIORAL ECOLOGY 12:482-489

6] Korpi, N.L., and B.D. Wisenden (2001) Learned recognition of novel predator odour by zebra danio, Danio rerio, following time-shifted presentation of alarm cue and predator odours. ENVIRONMENTAL BIOLOGY OF FISHES 61:205-211

7] Zimmer, K.D., M.A. Hanson, and M.G. Butler (2001) Effects of fathead minnow colonization and removal on a prairie wetland ecosystem. ECOSYSTEMS 4:346-357 ?

My Love Affair With Snails!

Back in mid 1758 a Swedish scientist devised a universal system to classify all living beings, the Systema Naturae (Nature’s System) which is still used today. To keep it universal, Latin was the chosen language as it is a dead language, neutral, and not subject to changes.

The scientist’s name was Carl von Linné, and true to his system he latinised his name to Linnaeus. This fact is a hint of things to come for many of what we call “Latin” names are really latinised names from other languages, primarily Greek. For example, the genus that gave us the common name tetra is Tetragonopterus. The only piece of Latin in this name is the masculine suffix -us the rest is composed of three Greek words: tetra (four), gonos (side) and pteron (wing or fin). A true Latin name would be something like Quadrilateripinnius, and the common name for the fish in the group might be “quadri”. How do you like those neon quadris?

Other languages can be latinised also, and this is quite evident when people or place names are used. For example Carnegiella and Eichhornia are two genera derived from the names Carnegie and Eichhorn respectively. For species names one uses the Latin suffix -i for masculine names and the Latin suffix -ae for feminine names. For example Melanotaenia boesemani named after Marinus Böseman and Carnegiella marthae named after Martha Ruth Myers (Mrs. G. S. Myers). Note that accents are not used so the name Böseman becomes Boeseman (we don’t use œ anymore). The same rule seems to apply to place names. For example Corydoras metae is named after the river Meta in Colombia. Usually though the suffix -ensis is used to denote that the organism in question is from that locale, as in Aequidens portalegrensis named after the city of Porto Alegre in southern Brazil.

As you may have noticed, names have gender in Latin and it is customary to match the species’ gender with the genus’ gender. For example note how the species name of the guppy changed when it was reclassified from Lebistes reticulatus to Poecilia reticulata. The genus Lebistes is masculine and the genus Poecilia is feminine. How does one know if a name is masculine or feminine? Well, the last vowel gives you a clue: a is feminine; e can be either; i, o and u are masculine. Of course there are exceptions to every rule so when a genus is described, the gender is given so that other scientists know how to name the species. If a species is named after a person or a place, the gender of the person or place name overrules the gender for the genus.

Once you know the rules and some Greek and Latin radicals many of the scientific names start to make sense. Some are very descriptive, some are very creative, some are interesting and others make you wonder what the scientist was thinking at the time. Here are some examples:

Tetragonopterus: four-sided finsTanichthys albonubes:

Tan’s fish, white clouds. This is the white-cloud minnow.Chaca chaca

: “chaca” is the sound this catfish makes when held out of the water!Aequidens

: with teeth of same length.Trichogaster trichopterus

: hair-belly hair-fin. The blue gourami.You may wonder why scientists go to such trouble to create these names, and us too to remember them. Well, Linnaeus wanted a system that was unique and universal. Scientific names are standardized, unique, are valid all over the world, and group related fish together. On the other hand, common names are not standardized, are not unique, are limited by language, and can’t be relied to group related fish together (e.g. consider the great white shark, a true shark; the iridescent shark, a catfish; and the rainbow shark, a cyprinid). For an example of lack of uniqueness, I know of three very different cichlids that are known by the same common name of flag cichlid: the festivum (Mesonauta festiva), the curviceps (Laetacara curviceps), and the angelfish (Pterophyllum scalare). The latter is called acará bandeira in Portuguese, which translates into flag cichlid.

Now, cichlidiots reading this article will be quickly to point out that Laetacara curviceps is also known as Aequidens curviceps and Mesonauta festiva is also known as Cichlasoma festivum. Aren’t these names supposed to be unique? You bet they are. The names still uniquely describe one species of fish. Even though the fish may have more than one name, only one is current. The other names are called synonyms and kept for past reference only. Scientists must make sure that these names are unique, and that the oldest known species name remains. The reason for the changes is that as the body of knowledge increases, certain species that were grouped together need to be split up and re-grouped. That creates new genera and new names that we must learn. It is not fun, but it is for a good reason.

Something else that most people do not find fun is the pronunciation of scientific names. Having a Latin-based language (Portuguese) as my first language, I find listening to the pronunciation of Latin names in North America a painful experience. All the pronunciation guides I have seen treat Latin names as if they were English names. I found out why in Innes’ Exotic Aquarium Fishes. A group of nineteenth century English botanists decided to “modernize” Latin and Greek names by giving English pronunciation to the vowels. So much for universality! Why bother with a neutral language if you are going to change it to suit your pronunciation needs? What if Linnaeus decided that Latin was to be pronounced as Swedish? This “modern” system is what we see in North American publications. I haven’t seen it in European publications.

Here is the “modern” pronunciation of Latin vowels, but to be sure of the “correct” pronunciation one must use the accented version of the Latin name, which is rarely ever found in books these days. Follow this key and you are sure to pronounce Latin names as if they were English.

àlong, as in hay; á short, as in hat; ä broad as in bar.è

long, as in key; é short, as in met.ì

long, as in tie; í short, as in hit.ò

long, as in toe; ó short, as in top.ù

long, as in cue; ú short, as in nut.As a comparison, here is the true Latin pronunciation of vowels. Note how consistent the sounds are compared to the above system.

aas in father, or short as in but. But not as in cat.e

as in they, or short as in net.i

as in keep, or short as in pit.o

as in note, or short as in not.u

as in food, or short as in put.y

only found in Greek words, assimilated to i.The letter ‘u’ was actually not in the Latin alphabet, ‘v’ was used instead.

The question is when to use the short or the long version of the vowels. For that one must consult a Latin dictionary for it is not obvious from visual inspection alone. In a dictionary long vowels are marked with macron ( ¯ ) placed above them. When in doubt, the short form will get you by.

Two vowels are always pronounced separately unless they form a diphthong (where they run together or glide). The Latin diphthongs are:

aeas in

as in cow oe

as in soilei

as in reignue

as in you ui

as in quickAlso, some consonants differ from their English pronunciations:

bas in English except before ‘s’ and ‘t’ when it is pronounced ‘p’.c

as ‘k’,

as ‘k’, it is an emphasized ‘c’.g

as in game, never as in ginger.s

as in sun, not as in was (where it has a little of a ‘z’ sound).t

as in table, never as in nation.v

always as wish, never as in the English ‘v’.x

always as in exceed, never as in example.Latin was, to a large degree, phonetically written. So when pronouncing Latin names, make sure you pronounce every syllable. You can ignore the first consonant in the ‘pt’ and ‘ct’ pairs. Some of the above pronunciations may not sound correct, particularly given some words that have become very familiar to us in English. Caesar is a perfect example, but guess where the word “Kaiser” came from? Try it out on your favorite scientific names. If this all sounds foreign to you it should, after all it is Latin not English!

Now, how does one pronounce words like Moenkhausia, goodeid, jacobfreibergi, Farlowella? There is no need to get all tongue-twisted. The easiest thing to do is to find out how to pronounce the person’s name in its original language, then pronounce the Latin suffix after it: monk-hous’e-a, goode-id, yacob-fryberg’ee, farlow-ella.

So, what do to next? Use the “modern” pronunciation of the proper Latin one? I think it all depends on your personality and the people you converse “Latin” names with. Using the “modern” form is easier for English speakers and it is surely widespread here. The drawback is that it goes against the goal of scientific names being universal. Non-English speakers won’t necessarily understand what you say. On the other hand if you use proper Latin pronunciation, people familiar with the “modern” form will think you are mispronouncing names. Considering the universality goal of scientific names, the fact that most tropical fish come from non-English speaking countries, and that a significant portion of the scientific body of knowledge also comes from non-English speaking countries, I’ll stick to as true a Latin pronunciation as I can.


Allen, Gerald R. (1995). Rainbowfishes In Nature and in the Aquarium. Melle, Germany: Tetra-Verlag.

Betts, Gavin (1992). Teach Yourself Latin, A Complete Course. Chicago, IL: NTC Publishing Group.

Guralnik, David B. (ed.) (1984). Webster’s New World Dictionary. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.

Handford, S. A. (1966). Pocket Latin Dictionary. Berlin and Munich, Germany: Langenscheidt KG.

Innes, William T. (1979). Exotic Aquarium Fishes. Neptune City, NJ: T.F.H. Publications, Inc.

Pasquier, Roger F. (1983). “The Diversity of Birdlife”. In Poole, Robert M. (ed.). The Wonder of Birds. Washington, DC: National Geographic Society. pp. 18-53.

Reis, Roberto E. ?